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The Soviet Jewish Bookshelf: Jewish Culture and Identity Between the Lines

Presented by Marat Grinberg

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In an environment where Judaism had been all but destroyed, and a public Jewish presence routinely delegitimized, reading provided many Soviet Jews with an entry to communal memory and identity. The bookshelf was both a depository of selective Jewish knowledge and often the only conspicuously Jewish presence in their homes. The typical Soviet Jewish bookshelf consisted of a few translated works from Hebrew and numerous translations from Yiddish and German, as well as Russian books with both noticeable and subterranean Jewish content. Such volumes, officially published, and not intended solely for a Jewish audience, afforded an opportunity for Soviet Jews to indulge insubordinate feelings in a largely safe manner. In his new book Marat Grinberg pinpoints and decodes the complex reading strategies and the specifically Jewish uses to which the books on the Soviet Jewish bookshelf were put. He reveals that not only Jews read them, but Jews read them in a specific way.

“Soviet Jews were the People of the Book. Denied all access to Scripture, they turned their bookshelves into major memory sites, fashioning a personal and collective identity out of historical fiction, science fiction, poetry, children’s verse, memoirs, travelogues, translations from Yiddish and modern Hebrew, and even anti-Zionist propaganda. Here is the untold story of their ongoing, multigenerational struggle for self-determination as told by a native son with great clarity, thoroughness, and empathy. Were this not enough, Marat Grinberg has also redefined Jewish literature as that which a living polity has rescued through conscious acts of creative rereading.”
— David G. Roskies, Sol & Evelyn Henkind Emeritus Professor of Yiddish Literature and Culture, The Jewish Theological Seminary

Marat Grinberg is professor of Russian and Humanities at Reed College. He received his BAs in comparative literature from Columbia University and in modern Jewish studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and his PhD in comparative literature from the University of Chicago. He is a specialist in 20th century Russian literature and culture, with an emphasis on Soviet poetry, modern Jewish literature, culture, and politics, and post-war European and American cinema. He is the author of I am to be Read not from Left to Right, but in Jewish: from Right to Left: The Poetics of Boris Slutsky and Commissar, and co-editor of Woody on Rye: Jewishness in the Films and Plays of Woody Allen. He has published extensively in both academic and journalistic venues on Russian and Jewish literature, culture, and cinema. The Soviet Jewish Bookshelf was published in 2023 by Brandeis University Press.

Program made possible, in part, by Larry Burgheimer.



Wednesday, December 06, 2023


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7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

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